rotating header

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Literacy: why it matters, and a glimpse of redemption

This morning, Scott and I dropped in on a workshop to teach teachers how to teach kids to read.

That sentence is hugely important, on SO MANY levels.

First, we know that reading is foundational to learning, so a strong grasp of decoding the written word is essential for all students in all cultures to learn all their other subjects.  Second, reading opens up connection to God through Scripture, and a Lubwisi Bible is only as helpful as the capacity to read it.  Third, reading competence seeps out into all of life, into contracts and shopping and road signs and menus, into newspapers and media and connections to the world at large. Lastly, we are creative beings, and the spoken and sung truths of this place will last longer if they can be written down.

But in a culture where their own mother-tongue language has only been in written form within the last two decades, where there are NO books or print media other than the New Testament and a few primers, where almost NO CHILD is exposed to books in their home . . . teaching reading is truly a mountain of a task. The primary school teachers themselves were not taught phonics as children, it's a new concept, and until the last couple of years all teaching of reading has been in English and by memorising sight words. Thankfully the Carrigans had the insight to begin connecting with a "Read for Life" program here in Uganda, and sponsored some local teachers to be trained in how to use phonics-based instruction. The McClures wisely saw the importance and value of this program, and have continued to support it and collect data. They've shown that even in a few weeks, it is possible to significantly improve the ability of students to identify sounds with letters. In the few short weeks that Ugandan schools were open in 2021, they pre- and post- tested a sample from the Read for Life trained teacher schools and control schools. The control (no intervention, normal baseline instruction) school students increased their sound recognition by 0%, and the Read for Life phonics-based instruction school students increased by 66%. In only 5 weeks. Then when schools shut down for COVID, the McClures arranged for literacy camps for kids here on the mission. Those kids similarly made huge leaps in their reading ability.

Literacy camp students last year

This year, in 2022, with schools finally back in session, the next step is to have the five Read for Life trained teachers teach OTHERS. So as we entered the first term break, Patrick and Alexis put together a training for about 30 teachers in 7 local primary schools. They invited them to a 3-day workshop at . . .  Christ School! Which has the added advantage of connecting our secondary school with primary schools, giving teachers a view of the goal of preparing their younger students for success. And our brand new chapel is doing just what we hoped it would, blessing the broader community. 

So we listened briefly to the work of teaching sounds, putting together words, getting class participation. The training uses the same active, involved, aural and visual and motion-aided teaching styles that will make these men and women better teachers in general, as well as more comfortable with phonics. It's been fun to see our team mates facilitate this, because if you are a Kindergarten/early primary teacher in America, nothing gives you more joy than seeing the same great portal to reading being opened for a few dozen teachers who will take it to hundreds of kids, eventually impacting thousands. And it is in our heart that the Lubwisi Bible and Literacy group can carry this forward in the local language too. 

Christ School is more than an academically excellent secondary option locally. It is a place where little seeds of justice are nurtured to flourish, as our students become teachers and our doors open to help other primary school teachers learn to bless children, the effect is multiplied. We're half-way through our 3-week break between school terms, but today we glimpsed redemption of that time as our space was used to augment educational capacity in the district. And afterwards we walked around to thank the workers also using the time to paint staff housing, repair other buildings, keep working on our perimeter brick fence which has become more necessary as our environment urbanizes. Thankful for our supportive partners who invest, and if you're one of them reading to the end, know your investment is reaching many.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Why we admire Volodymyr Zelensky..(by Bret Stephens)

 By Bret Stephens (the New York Times) 

April 19, 2022

Why do we admire Volodymyr Zelensky? The question almost answers itself.

We admire him because, in the face of unequal odds, Ukraine’s president stands his ground. Because he proves the truth of the adage that one man with courage makes a majority. Because he shows that honor and love of country are virtues we forsake at our peril. Because he grasps the power of personal example and physical presence. Because he knows how words can inspire deeds — give shape and purpose to them — so that the deeds may, in turn, vindicate the meaning of words.

We admire Zelensky because he reminds us of how rare these traits have become among our own politicians. Zelensky was an actor who used his celebrity to become a statesman. Western politics is overrun by people who playact as statesmen so that they may ultimately become celebrities. Zelensky has made a point of telling Ukrainians the hard truth that the war is likely to get worse — and of telling off supposed well-wishers that their words are hollow and their support wanting. Our leaders mainly specialize in telling people what they want to hear.

We admire Zelensky because of who and what he faces. Vladimir Putin represents neither a nation nor a cause, only a totalitarian ethos. The Russian dictator stands for the idea that truth exists to serve power, not the other way around, and that politics is in the business of manufacturing propaganda for those who will swallow it and imposing terror on those who will not. Ultimately, the aim of this idea isn’t the mere acquisition of power or territory. It’s the eradication of conscience.

We admire Zelensky because he has restored the idea of the free world to its proper place. The free world isn’t a cultural expression, as in “the West”; or a security concept, as in NATO; or an economic description, as in “the developed world.” Membership in the free world belongs to any country that subscribes to the notion that the power of the state exists first and foremost to protect the rights of the individual. And the responsibility of the free world is to aid and champion any of its members menaced by invasion and tyranny. As it goes for Ukraine, so, eventually, it will go for the rest of us.

We admire Zelensky because he embodies two great Jewish archetypes: David in the face of Goliath and Moses in the face of Pharoah. He is the canny underdog who, with skill and wits, makes up for what he lacks in fearsomeness and brawn. And he is the prophet who revolts against the diminishment and entrapment of his people — and determines to lead them through trials toward a political culture based on self-determination, freedom and ethics.

We admire Zelensky because he fights. Fighting is not supposed to be a virtue in civilized societies that value dialogue, diplomacy and compromise. But the world isn’t always civilized: There are things for which civilized persons and nations must be prepared to fight if they aren’t to perish. Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have reminded the rest of the free world that a liberal and democratic inheritance that is taken for granted by its citizens runs the risk of being taken at will by its enemies.

We admire Zelensky because he rouses the better angels of our nature. His leadership has made Joe Biden a better president, Germany a better country, NATO a better alliance. He has shaken much of the United States out of the isolationist stupor into which it was gradually falling. He has forced Europe’s political and mercantile classes to stop looking away from Russia’s descent into fascism. He reminds free societies that there can still be a vital center in politics, at least when it comes to things that matter.

We admire Zelensky because he maintains a sense of human proportion befitting a democratically elected leader. Note the contrast between his public encounters with journalists, cabinet members, foreign leaders and ordinary citizens, and the Stalinist antics of the Putin court. In the ostentatious trappings of Russian power we see the smallness of the man wielding it: the paranoia and insecurity of a despot who knows he may someday have to sell his kingdom for a horse.

We admire Zelensky because he models what a man should be: impressive without being imposing; confident without being cocksure; intelligent without pretending to be infallible; sincere rather than cynical; courageous not because he is fearless but because he advances with a clear conscience. American boys in particular, raised on preposterous notions of what manhood entails, should be steered toward his example.

We admire Zelensky because he holds out the hope that our own troubled democracies may yet elect leaders who can inspire, ennoble, even save us. Perhaps we can do so when the hour isn’t quite as late as it is now for the people of Ukraine and their indomitable leader.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter Matters

 Easter matters.

If there was any doubt, this year makes it very clear. My dad died 16 years ago on this date, and it matters to us to have a different story ending than just loss. I am personally limited and weary and awkwardly impaired, and that's not going away in any discernible timeline. The world is spinning into more atrocity of war in Europe, and it's hard to even keep straight the attacks in our neighbouring countries in this continent, or the floods and droughts. We need resurrection, not as a theoretical unseen unknowable theological postulate but as a force that exploded one grave and now marches out into every corner of our globe and life.

Resurrection. Painting by Serge artist Constance, look her up on insta for more.

Because there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, to rescue my vision or protect our team when trucks of soldiers are rumbling towards the border, or smooth all the conflicts or cure all the fevers. It's outside of our capacity. And Easter says, that's OK, because God saw, and came, and acted.

So here in Bundi, we started the day well before sunrise like the women worried about Jesus' body, preparing coffee and cinnamon rolls and walking out to the football pitch to await the light and our team. We sang and listened to Jesus' words about himself, and celebrated. Then to a church that became more packed with ever hour, to be reminded by Pastor Mike that the power of the resurrection is real and effective and universe-changing. Even though our problems are not demonstrably removed, Jesus stood up and exited the grave and in his wounded body quietly sparked a complete reversal of entropy. 

Sunrise, singing by faith

And more singing a few hours later in church

Easter smiles from Miss Michaela, not because everything's easy, but because love is real

And more beautiful colour and hope from Ann

The day is just beginning for our families in America, and we're still cooking and washing dishes and preparing for the Easter meal.  Just wanted to pause to say: Thanks for your prayers. Still amazed that we are HERE for Easter, and still can't believe how tired every day makes me, and still clinging to the truth of Easter. Because it matters.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Plot Twist: Friday

 Last night we celebrated Passover with our team and visitors, the story of the deliverance of the enslaved Israelites in a foreign land miraculously delivered. Which is the same commemorative meal that Jesus celebrated with his friends, his last night. 

On a week that included the shouting hopeful excitement of Palm Sunday's entrance, and the annual meal that celebrates God's powerful ordering of history to rescue his people, one can only imagine that by Thursday night the inner group around Jesus were poised for a solidly good ending to the story. All signs pointed to prophecy fulfilled, a new King established, in the company of winners.

And frankly in some ways our week could look that way too. We welcomed visitors on Tuesday with a pizza party at our house, a team from another country where our NGO works, including very good friends who used to work here. And Wednesday we spent the entire day at Christ School to commemorate the new Chapel completed this year. It's more than a building by far. It's a concrete symbol of the synergy of global partnership, funds raise by parents of Serge missionaries to bless parents of Bundibugyo by creating the largest and most functional meeting space in the District, a beautiful and safe hall where we worship and learn. Scott has poured immeasurable energy into this project over the last couple years and many others as well. To see it complete, in spite of COVID, school shutdowns, budget stress and lack, shows this community that God sees and rescues and cares. Every top political leader in the District came, and in their speeches we were moved to hear them referring to the spiritual character development CSB emphasises along with academic excellence. Yes, that is the core value of our team and our staff, to model and teach servant leadership and to promote education for women. But to hear the unsolicited recognition that this is happening, out of the mouths of our parliamentarians and governor-level people, to see alumnae attending and to have evidence that the slow deep changes of heart are being manifested through them, was very gratifying.  School is back with our biggest enrollment ever, we have a committed staff, and we all hope COVID is ebbing and life is improving.


So by Thursday it would be natural to think, here we are in 2022, and the plot is finally moving to a good chapter. Friends, visitors, songs, poems, food, reunion, fellowship, worship, hope. The disciples of Jesus probably thought they could predict the next chapter too.

But Friday.

Plot twist.

Sleepy with the four cups of passover wine, the sumptuous meal of lamb and unleavened breads and dried dates and honey and sauces, reclined in the garden trying to appear holy in prayer, who would have seen that the end of the world as we know it was on the way. Betrayal, sham trials, scourging, abandonment, shame. Instead of enthronement, within hours Jesus is being brutally impaled by spikes, attached to a cross with two criminals, mocked, dehydrated, dying. Dead.

From the Biola Lent series
Today we resonate with the bewilderment of those friends who waved the palm branches and poured the passover wine. Everything seemed to be on track, the right group improving, even winning. So the unexpected (though he tried so many times to tell them) killing of Jesus, their unexpected aloneness, must have been devastating. And we resonate because our own stories keep having plot twists that don't yet fit resurrection's dreams. One of our visitors delivered her baby prematurely in January, and even then we thought, OK it will be some long weeks in the hospital but surely "we trusted in God let Him deliver us since He delights in us" . . . only to see little Titus die in a Nairobi hospital a few days later. What? Even this week with its glimpses of glory has ended with a disturbing thievery incident,  team and visitors struggling with sickness, setbacks in news from other places, and always the personal struggles of being a bit impaired and weak and slow. The temptation is always there to think, wait, this isn't the way it was supposed to work out. War in Ukraine, terribly divisive politics, a brutal police shooting of a Congolese immigrant in America during a traffic stop, not to mention Congolese in Congo killed by rebels, unrest in Jerusalem, increased hunger. We instinctively feel, this is not supposed to be the way the story moves.

Today we sit in the dissonance. The end is promised, not seen. The Friday and Saturday and into Sunday punch of loss is hard. We wait for the plot to twist back.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

From bandwagon to cancel culture: Holy Week

Palm Sunday, all of Jerusalem on the Jesus bandwagon. He rides into town on a Zechariah-prophesied donkey colt, to the sound of jubilation. Probably the crowd is anticipating the end of Roman oppression, a return to the glory days of the Davidic Kingdom, regional respect and prosperity, with a king who can heal people and make wine and multiply fish and loaves to boot. It's a high moment, and yet Jesus consistently returns to his theme of approaching suffering and death, which no on seems to hear. They want to be on the winning side.

The palm trees in front of our house this Palm Sunday morning

Palm Sunday service at CSB, with palms that have twisted to cancel culture

Even me, as we say here. I would choose power and healing and food and drink over a slow execution any day. Yesterday Scott finished the installation of the overhead projector for the new chapel at CSB. He has poured a lot of his life into this school and lately that's been finishing a huge meeting hall (aka The Chapel), including roof, floors, windows, doors, electricity, all through funds raised from our team's parents to bless parents of CSB students. As he got the video going and connected it to the TV, the students were able to watch the end of a Premier League soccer match. And they cheered, universally, for the team that was already winning.  It's what we humans like.

By the end of the week, the crowd is jeering. They switch sides when it becomes clear the power has shifted to the religious and political establishment, away from this upstart itinerant. Not much has changed in two thousand years, except that we can jump on the bandwagon faster from all over the world and then be convinced en masse to cancel what is out of favour. If Jesus were here today, we'd all be deleting his InstaGram account this week.

Our preacher at CSB today related Palm Sunday to the kids. We have 380 of them, the biggest enrollment ever. And a new Chapel, and an overhead projector that works, and a girls' football team that went to regional quarter-finals (excellent for our rural distant school), and smart uniforms and good choirs, and this week the end of exams and closing of term one, after two years of COVID sorrows. Chaplain Edward told them, as you go home, you might feel like you are somebody pretty special. Maybe not quite messiah-king material, but almost. When you get there, your parents will celebrate you perhaps, but you will also find reality, find some hard truths. He estimated 90% of local homes have some role in hosting refugees from the DRC. We're getting requests from neighbours to help them with food for the larger family crowd, and meeting with the district about responding.  Chaplain Edward warned them that they might be crowded out of their usual room for sleeping, or making do with fewer meals. And so like Jesus, they are progressing by the end of the week from the celebration of Palm Sunday (we literally have a huge event planned for Wednesday to dedicate this new chapel with speeches and songs and food as the Learys bring a visiting team) to the suffering of the cross. How will you respond, he asked? Will you, like Jesus, choose to serve? Will you try to bless and help your family humbly, sleep uncomfortably, work dirtily, garden and cook and clean? Or will you demand your honour and expect others to serve you? 

Our return to Bundibugyo has had some sweet moments, perhaps a taste of the Palm Sunday bandwagon. Friday we were invited to a celebratory dinner by one of the church elders we have known almost 30 years, and he recounted with flourish times we had provided medical treatment for his relatives or given him rides. Many friends have come to the door to be grateful with us for God's mercy. Yes, we've invested our lives in a small obscure place, but hey, if you almost die and show back up, it's nice to feel like people cared. They did, and do. But that's not the goal of Jesus' life or our mission. There is still abundant evil to struggle against, and the brief bandwagon quickly devolves to hard realities. Corruption, missing paperwork, tangled messaging, conflict, people with intractable illnesses and needs, insecurity both macro (armed rebels) and micro (doubting hearts). Scott reinforced the chapel message when he was called up at the end, describing that though he's Chairman of the Board of Governors and a father in his family, he still chooses to clean up the dead rats or empty the garbage or wash the floor. The more I try to approach "normal" old life, the more discouraged I am by my limitations and the burden that puts on others, particularly Scott. Maybe it sounds trivial to break a dish or struggle with an email, but it doesn't feel trivial when it's because of neurologic impairment. I'd rather have this be a story of triumph than one stuck in messy chapters of unknown duration. 

Servant-leadership has been a value of this team, this school, this mission from the start. You'd think we would naturally have that down, but this Holy Week reminds me that we humans in all eras still want to win rather than to die. The good news is that as we follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane this week, the priests' courtyards, Pilate's porch, the hill named for a skull, that paradoxical route leads to life. While I'd vote to fast forward to Easter morning, and to fast forward to a strong body and mind, Jesus asks us to hang in through the Holy Week and the Holy Life where we swat mosquitoes and get interrupted and cry and disagree and are sometimes even hated or hurt . . . because this road leads to Redemption. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

The latest from Christ School

 CLICK HERE to read the most recent UPDATE from Christ School-Bundibugyo!!

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Do something that won't compute

 In church this morning, the first reading was from Daniel, the story of the emperor making his 90-foot tall golden statue and requiring everyone to pause and respect it when the music plays. Maybe that sounds quaintly archaic, but in fact it pretty accurately describes 2022.  People in power decide what to promote, and it is usually publicly visibly impressive, expensively exclusive, directly connected to political ascendancy, and the consequences of ignoring the trend could be dire. . . . not that most of us want to do so, because we are so embedded in the culture around us. For instance in  some parts of the world this week movies, music, awards were the central story, in others football and politics, in others weapons and negotiations. But the goal of being shiny, and winning, seems pretty universal. Even for our students in chapel, we could be unconsciously modelling that our goal for them is to win our tournaments, make the best grades, dominate the competition, work hard, promote our name, make our donors and parents proud.

Cheering on the girls (above), chapel (below) . . . without making them idols we pray.

Along comes Jesus, another couple of weeks until Passover, moving towards the centres of power but turning expectations upside down. Answering questions with more difficult questions, throwing out phrases like whoever doesn't hate his family and forsake all can't be my disciple, walking into risk and refusing to call down angel armies. Pastor Mike preached this today from Ephesians 2. Grace, not glory, saves us.

Someone posted this poem this week, which puts that in 21st century North American terms from Wendell Berry (Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front):  

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

So how can we look back on the week, and find things that did not compute, that won't make sense for next week either? In our area, we see people who love the world by caring for the malnourished or teaching medical students or training counselors or coaching kids, all with zero fanfare and mostly lurching steps forward. Here in Bundibugyo this week we were delighted to have Waller Tabb back in town as a translation consultant, remembering the years and years of faithful work he and partners spent to complete the New Testament in Lubwisi and now continuing to work remotely with local translators on Joshua and Genesis and Psalms, thinking about how to consistently represent place names and describe the mysteries of God in a language that until this project had never been written. We spent a day at a burial, walking that odd line of ours of being historical and yet outsiders too. Another day Scott met with district leaders to explore how to best react to the estimated 23,000 refugees that have permeated the border from Congo after brutal ADF attacks  . . . because most prefer to stay with family and move freely back and forth to their gardens, so only about a hundred actually sleep in the designated transit camp. They are driving up numbers accessing our BundiNutrition program, which has led us to apply for more funding via a grant we could really use. Other long meetings addressed our tedious and complex NGO re-approval process and implications for work permits. In between we continue to receive visitors, old friends with greetings and others with medical problems or financial strains. And we work on Christ School and team issues, and mourn power outages and snakes. It often feels like too little, too weak, too ineffective, in the wrong places. And I often feel like I'm more tired than is reasonably explicable. 

Waller and Aristarchus the translation consultants, with our team

This is the translation work in process, Waller in the back room far right.

Jesus said to value Him above shiny success and even above family togetherness, which bites harder leaving kids than it ever did leaving parents.

But the last line of the poem shines out. Love someone who does not deserve it. Yes, that's our story. We are loved. We are the people who don't deserve it. We can walk into the does-not-compute territory because we walk there with Jesus. We can stake our lives on grace, not profit, because love is the truest reality of the universe.

Two weeks from today we'll be celebrating Easter, and frankly I don't feel ready for all that is on our docket leading up to that. But that's the message of this year for us: we aren't enough, it does not compute, because grace balances the equation outside of the Daniel 3 structure of the world. 

In the theme of LOVE, surprise ENGAGEMENT of special intern Sarah Grace to her visiting boyfriend Drew. We are rejoicing with them!!

Rainy season brings rainbows to team meeting . . . 

Team CSB support! The McClures primarily, but happy to join.